New ways to understand and deal with the fear of losing control


Control is an important concept in the fields of psychology and psychopathology, particularly in relation to anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Losing control, however, is a fear that clinical psychologists observe in many patients, but which remains understudied and poorly understood.

A new article published in the Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry presents a new perspective on this fear, with rich implications for future treatments and research. Adam Radomsky, the author of the article and a professor in the Department of Psychology, describes some recent work and reflection on these fears and beliefs around loss of control. It also explains how this knowledge can be used to study, assess and treat patients with various psychological problems.

“I think this fear is most likely trans-diagnostic, meaning it’s seen in patients with several different disorders,” he says. “But what they fear losing control of, or what the consequences of losing control might be, will of course vary from person to person.”

Radomsky, a core member of the Center for Clinical Health Research, hopes the paper will spark increased interest to foster new research that can be conducted and later applied in clinical settings.

Seen through the troubles

Radomsky says he developed his interest in the idea after hearing anecdotal evidence of this fear of losing control from several clients in his clinical practice. As a cognitive-behavioral therapist, Radomsky treats patients with social anxiety disorder, OCD, panic disorder, and other issues.

He says his clients don’t necessarily tell him that they fear losing control as a primary concern. Rather, they express fears of making a fool of themselves in public or losing control of their mind or body and bodily functions. Others express fears of losing control of their property or their environment.

“It’s something that can hide under the kind of fears that people bring to the clinic,” he notes.

To assess the levels of fear his patients exhibit, Radomsky and his students rely on techniques that use precise, experimental lines of inquiry based on questionnaires and interviews.

“There are strategies that we use in cognitive behavioral therapy that can help people think about loss of control differently and act differently,” he says. “The research will help us explore how far we can develop this.”

Radomsky says asking people to try losing control often leads them to be perplexed and wondering how losing control might work.

“If they can’t lose control even when they try to lose control, maybe it doesn’t work that way,” he says. “Maybe control isn’t something you have to pursue because it’s already there.”

Think carefully

Radomsky suspects that what many people call lapses of control are actually different ways of thinking about past decisions: it may be easier for people to call bad decisions made on impulse lapses of control, although this is a open scientific question.

“People usually say, ‘I lost my temper’ or ‘I was drunk and said something that I now regret. “But upon careful examination, what people are likely to say is that they wanted to act that way at the time,” he explains. “Is it losing control? I think – at least sometimes – it’s having control and realizing later that you’ve made a mistake, perhaps by not thinking carefully about the consequences of your actions. “

This approach also has clinical implications, notes Radomsky. With a deeper understanding of what drives a patient’s choices, a therapist can help them make better ones in the future.

“I think that’s a lot more part of our job than trying to help people stay in control, which is likely to cause more problems,” he says. “If you’re constantly trying to stay in control, chances are you’ll find that causing more problems than focusing on other issues.”

Source of the story:

Materials provided by Concordia University. Original written by Patrick Lejtenyi. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


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